If you can’t go to the local drive-in movie (the perfect venue for this shelter-in-place-perfect film), make some popcorn and settle down on the couch for a good old-fashioned 90 minute sci-fi extraterrestrial flick. For those of us who grew up on Cold War paranoia induced B movies like It Came From Outer Space, The Vast Of Night feels very familiar. In fact, it is a movie set within a movie. We are pulled into a 1950’s television screen to watch something like a Twilight Zone episode, complete with bad reception. The setting is small town in New Mexico (where else???). The atmosphere is scary in the same way sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories can give you goosebumps, a fear evocative of a more innocent time of life. Switchboard operators, bulky reel-to-reel tape recorders, and saddle-shoes set the time frame, but nostalgia doesn’t drive the film. And racial politics, absent from most movies, especially those of the 50’s plays an important role in plot development. I’m not sure if this is intentional, but the word alien is not used–“Up there” is the term. The cinematography is intriguing and unusual: camera angles, closeups, wide angle shots build tension and intimacy with the very likable characters. It was made on a micro-budget, but in some ways that adds to its appeal.
It would be difficult to review The Vast of Night without referencing The X-files. In one key scene an old lady tells a story of abduction, but like the X-files, she attributes bizarre, violent and destructive behavior on earth to “Up there” interference. This feeds into my private theory that Trump and his cronies are either the product of Up There interference or the actual perps. It doesn’t make me feel better, but at least there’s a plausible explanation.